Government of Canada Response to the Fourth Report of the
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration,
“Apply Without Fear: Special
Immigration Measures for Nationals of Haiti and Zimbabwe”
The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) for its Fourth Report entitled “Apply Without Fear: Special Immigration Measures for Nationals of Haiti and Zimbabwe,” which was tabled in the House of Commons on
May 16, 2016. The Government supports the Report and welcomes the opportunity to have these issues examined from the broad perspective of the stakeholders who participated in the Committee’s study. The Government is committed to helping Haitian and Zimbabwean nationals in Canada who are affected by the lifting of the temporary suspension of removal to those countries to remain in Canada as permanent residents.
On December 4, 2014, following extensive reviews of country conditions and consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations, the Government of Canada lifted the temporary suspensions of removal to Haiti and Zimbabwe. A temporary suspension of removal had been in effect for Haiti since 2004, and for Zimbabwe since 2002.
Recognizing that some Haitians and Zimbabweans affected by the lifting of the temporary suspensions of removal have been in Canada for a decade or more and may have developed significant ties to this country, the Government put in place certain special measures to enable the affected Haitian and Zimbabwean nationals in Canada to apply for permanent resident status based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations, without risk of removal. Those with a pending refugee claim before the Immigration and Refugee Board were given six months to apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration following a negative decision on their claim. The eligible applicants benefitted from an administrative deferral of removal until a stage one decision was made on their humanitarian and compassionate applications.
The initial special measures were in effect from December 1, 2014, to June 1, 2015. During that time, 2,200 persons applied for permanent resident status under the special measures, out of an estimated population of 3,500 potential applicants. The approval rates for applications under these initial special measures were high, at approximately 90%, compared with the usual acceptance rate of approximately 40% for applications for humanitarian and compassionate consideration.
While the initial special measures that ended on June 1, 2015, helped to facilitate immigration for many Haitian and Zimbabwean nationals in Canada, a significant number of potential applicants had not applied to regularize their status by that deadline. On February 4, 2016, the Government of Canada gave Haitian and Zimbabwean nationals in Canada another six months – until August 4, 2016 – to apply for permanent residence in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and, for those eligible, benefit from an administrative deferral of removal until they receive a stage one decision on their humanitarian and compassionate application.
Individuals who already applied for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds but whose applications were refused have been able to apply again under these new special measures. As well, individuals who made a refugee claim and received a negative decision from the Immigration Refugee Board of Canada have also been able to apply under these special measures, even though it is normally not permitted for 12 months following a failed refugee claim.
While the Government has undertaken significant efforts to help Haitian and Zimbabwean nationals in Canada obtain permanent resident status, the Committee’s Report has put forward several important recommendations, to which the Government responds below.
Recommendation 1: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada redouble its efforts to publicize the special immigration measure for nationals of Haiti and Zimbabwe with a focus on:
- The form of media most likely to reach the intended audience;
- Positive messaging to address fears of coming forward, including the high approval rate on applications already submitted; and
- Correcting myths, such as the myth that people who already had an application on humanitarian and compassionate considerations denied could not apply again under the special measure.
As recommended in the Standing Committee’s report, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has used a multi-pronged communication and outreach approach to inform people, both potential applicants and stakeholders, of the special measures. Communications efforts sought to dispel myths and provide factual information on the special measures including: the high approval rate among applicants; the eligibility criteria and fact that even applicants who had previously applied for permanent residence and were refused could apply once again; and that eligible applicants would benefit from an administrative deferral of removal from Canada until a decision was made on their humanitarian and compassionate application.
The communication strategy began with issuing a Government of Canada news release to national and ethnic media to announce the start of the measures on February 4, 2016. Many ethnic media in Quebec were targeted, given the majority of potential applicants under the special measures are Haitians and that approximately 70% of Haitians in Canada live in that province.
Since then, IRCC has published web notices to provide information to applicants on the measures. The notices include detailed information on the criteria and application process and steps on how to apply. IRCC is also using its social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to further help get the message out.
Direct outreach to potential applicants and stakeholders has been a key component in the implementation of the special measures. Notices providing information on the special measures were mailed to all potential applicants identified by IRCC at their most recent address in Canada. Of those who had email addresses on file, IRCC also sent out information on the special measures by email. Reminders were sent in early July 2016 to those same email addresses. In addition, the Department has engaged stakeholders to notify them of the special measures and to ask for their assistance in helping with outreach to the affected communities.
On May 21, 2016, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable
John McCallum, Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, and several Members of Parliament, participated in a joint media event to reiterate the special measures and announce that the federal Government has simplified the application process and provided access to the Immigration Loans Program to eligible applicants.
Following the announcement, the Government held an information session with stakeholders, in collaboration with the Quebec Ministère d’Immigration, Diversité and Inclusion, to provide more information on the measures and new facilitation processes and to listen to stakeholders on how to further spread the word and encourage more people to apply. To support this session, communications products such as an information sheet, poster and checklist – with versions available in Creole as well as in French and English – were produced and provided to the stakeholders. Past experience has shown that working with and through stakeholders to disseminate information is key; they are in the best position to work with the affected communities as they hold the expertise and language skills.
Recommendation 2: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review the process of applying for permanent residence under humanitarian and compassionate grounds, with a view to making it less onerous for applicants.
Normally, all foreign nationals who wish to apply for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds must fill out four mandatory forms to be submitted together at the beginning of the application process. These forms include: a generic application form for persons applying from within Canada; a supplementary information form regarding humanitarian and compassionate factors; an additional family information form; and a background information form for security screening purposes. The information requested in these forms is required to verify identity, avoid fraud, and ensure that applicants are not prohibited from entering and remaining in Canada.
In response to feedback from stakeholders and potential applicants, IRCC has made an effort to simplify the application process for persons applying under the current special measures. On May 21, 2016, IRCC announced that applicants would be required to initially fill out two of the four forms, with the latter two being required only after applicants have received an initial decision on their application. As well, an application guide specific to the special measures has been created for applicants to help them understand why the information is being collected and how to fill in the forms.
The humanitarian and compassionate considerations program will be the subject of a regularly scheduled evaluation in 2016–2017. This presents an opportunity for IRCC to look more closely at the process of applying for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, including the complexity of the forms and their purposes in support of program integrity and security.
Recommendation 3: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider alternate methods of verifying identity and relationships, such as the use of affidavits, and make these alternatives available to applicants under the special measure.
Establishing identity and verifying relationships, including family relationships, is a central element of any application made to IRCC to immigrate or to visit Canada. Canada’s security and admissibility screening processes are universal in their application and non-discriminatory; all applicants must establish their identity in order for their application to be approved and to ensure the health, safety, and security of Canadians is protected.
Generally, for permanent and temporary resident applicants, a passport or other travel document is required. In the case of protected persons or refugees, a statutory declaration is accepted under certain exceptional conditions and only if the applicant does not hold a passport or a travel document.
Recommendation 4: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada identify organizations that could help with completing applications under the special measure and consider providing them with extra resources for so doing. Further, that these arrangements be well publicized so that affected persons know where to turn for assistance.
While IRCC agrees with the spirit of the Committee’s recommendation, the Department is limited in its ability to fund organizations to assist non-permanent residents.
As noted in the Standing Committee’s Report, the Government of Quebec has identified and funded five organizations in that province to assist persons applying under the special measures. These organizations can provide assistance to applicants under the special measures, at no cost, by answering questions and giving support through the application process. In its communications material, IRCC provided the list of these stakeholder organizations as well as links to the organizations on its website.
IRCC’s Settlement Program funds third-party service providers (such as non-government and community organizations) to promote the successful integration of permanent residents into Canada; as such, its Terms and Conditions currently dictate that temporary residents, including those applying for humanitarian and compassionate considerations, are not eligible to receive settlement services (as per the Canada-Quebec Accord, the province of Quebec is fully responsible for providing settlement support in that province and is not bound by these Terms and Conditions).
While this may limit the aid that some of these organizations can give directly to applicants in terms of filling out application forms, the Government’s outreach activities, as well as joint efforts with Quebec authorities, have helped communicate the details on the special measures to potential applicants and direct them toward organizations that can assist them.
Recommendation 5: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada examine the cost of applying for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, particularly for lower income applicants, and consider lowering fees or providing fee assistance where appropriate; and that IRCC ensure that this review applies to the current applicants under this special measure.
The Government recognizes that the permanent resident application fees might present a barrier to some potential applicants under the special measures. To help address this issue, IRCC announced that Haitian and Zimbabwean applicants applying by the August 4, 2016, deadline will have access to the Immigration Loans Program to assist with paying their application fees.
IRCC monitors its fees on a yearly basis to ensure that fee levels do not exceed the cost of providing the services, as section 19(2) of the Financial Administration Act prohibits departments from charging more than the cost of processing applications. In the case of humanitarian and compassionate applications, the current fee is considerably lower than the cost of processing the application. Indeed, on average, over the last five years, the Government has only recovered approximately 13% of the cost of processing these applications. In other words, applicants are paying less than the true cost of processing a humanitarian and compassionate application.
The Committee’s recommendation will be considered by the Department in an upcoming departmental review of fees for applications for permanent residence, including applications for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. During the review, the Department will look at a variety of factors to assess the appropriate fee level.
Recommendation 6: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider issuing work permits and Interim Federal Health Program certificates valid for 18 months to people who have been in Canada for one year or longer with a temporary suspension of removal.
The Government supports the recommendation to consider issuing work permits valid for 18 months to people who have been in Canada for one year or longer due to a temporary suspension of removal. The validity period of work permits is an important factor in helping to provide persons with a sense of certainty and financial security.
The length of validity of the work permit is set out in administrative guidelines. IRCC will work to amend administrative guidelines to allow for the issuance of work permits for 18 months to individuals in Canada who are subject to a temporary suspension of removal.
On April 1, 2016, the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) was restored to pre-2012 coverage. Under this program, the federal government provides limited, temporary health care coverage to all eligible individuals. IFHP coverage is not at all tied to the duration of the work permit but to eligibility under the program. Individuals who are under a temporary suspension of removal are eligible to receive IFHP coverage.
Recommendation 7: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work to ensure that health care providers do not refuse health care services to individuals covered by the Interim Federal Health Program.
The IFHP does not provide services directly to beneficiaries but reimburses the cost of services provided by health care providers. Enrolment in the program is voluntary. As with provincial health insurance regimes, it remains a requirement that health care providers register with the IFHP through Medavie Blue Cross, the third-party claims administrator, in order to be reimbursed for services they have provided. Beneficiaries may seek care from any medical service provider who is already registered, or willing to register, with Medavie.
IFHP changes that came into effect on April 1, 2016, include simplified eligibility criteria and an expanded scope of benefits. Benefits covered under the IFHP include basic health care services, such as standard physician and hospital care, supplemental services, including limited vision and urgent dental care, and prescription drug coverage.
The changes to the IFHP have been communicated to all registered health care providers and all provincial and territorial health care professional associations. It is hoped that the program changes and outreach efforts, in tandem with this Government Response, will raise awareness about the restoration of the IFHP and will result in increased provider participation in the IFHP, thereby increasing the number of health care providers for eligible beneficiaries.
Conclusion to the Government Response
The Government is committed to helping nationals of Haiti and Zimbabwe affected by the lifting of the temporary suspensions of removal to obtain permanent resident status in Canada. This commitment has been demonstrated by the introduction of special immigration measures for these individuals, and the ongoing efforts by the Government to inform individuals and stakeholders of this opportunity to obtain permanent resident status and provide extra support to these individuals throughout the process. Going forward, through the evaluation of the humanitarian and compassionate considerations program, the Government will seek to improve ways to facilitate permanent resident status for others who have been in Canada for many years due to circumstances beyond their control.